Eastern subterranean termites
here for photo Subterranean termites ©Herman Moxey Fidelity Exterminating
Eastern subterranean termite, Reticulitermes flavipes
Subterranean termites, in natural settings, work as beneficial insects by breaking down cellulose-containing materials, such as dead trees. They live in the soil and must maintain contact with the ground or some other moisture source to survive. Termites become a problem to humans when structures containing cellulose are built over or near their colonies in the ground. They are able to find weakened areas in the structure, or areas of direct wood-to-ground contact, and feed on the cellulose. Termites build earthen shelter tubes from the ground into the structure for protection from predators and to help maintain a moist environment. Many times these tubes are built on inside walls, porches or chimneys where they cannot be seen.
In some rare situations, if water and wood are available from a source other than the soil, subterranean termites can establish a colony with no ground contact. Isolated, above-ground infestations may occur in buildings where termites have access to water from condensation, leaking pipes, roofs or other sources.
Termites are social insects that live in highly organized colonies. Like many insects, termites have an egg, an immature and an adult stage. There are three main types of adult colony members, or castes: reproductives, workers and soldiers. The reproductives include the king and queen, and in large colonies, supplementary reproductives that produce eggs. Workers are usually the most numerous individuals in the colony. They are small, wingless and whitish and may be found in damaged wood. Workers care for all of the other termites and forage for food (wood). The soldiers protect the colony from attackers such as ants.
Soldiers fit the same description as workers, but have long, dark mouthparts protruding from their large heads. Soldiers may also be found in damaged wood. Termites are able to digest wood with the help of microorganisms which live in the termite gut.
When a colony is several years old and relatively large, it may produce another form of adult termite called a "swarmer." Swarmers have four wings, are often brown or black and range in size from approximately 3/8 to ¼ inch. Swarmers are the termite’s way of sending out new kings and queens to start colonies. In the spring, great numbers of swarmers can fly from a single colony. Male and female swarmers pair up, shed their wings and tunnel into the ground. The pair then prepare a chamber near a wood source where the female will begin to lay eggs. These eggs are cared for by the king and queen and will develop into worker termites. The workers take over care of the young from the queen and king. Once enough workers are established, soldiers and other castes will develop from eggs produced by the queen. Two or three years after the establishment of the colony, secondary reproductives are produced. These greatly increase the egg-laying activity and population of the colony. Normally at least three to four years or more will pass before any swarming of winged termites from the colony occurs.
Swarmers are the most visible form of termite. These termites can be confused with many ants that also swarm in the spring. However, swarming ants have elbowed antennae, a narrow waist and front wings that are longer than the back wings. Swarming termites have straight antennae, a thick waist and all wings the same length.
Source:Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service
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